Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player’s long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven’t exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
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The Indians did a lot of winning during the 2003 season. Everywhere, that is, but at the major league level. Indeed, the most dramatic evidence of the organization�s rebuilding process can be found in the winning percentages. At the major league level, Cleveland�s .420 winning percentage was its 10th-worst since it began play in 1901. The Tribe�s six minor league clubs, however, combined for a .575 mark, the second-best in baseball.
At 97-43, low Class A Lake County had the best record of any team in the majors or minors. Double-A Akron went 88-53, the fourth-best mark in the minors, and won the Eastern League championship. Three of the Indians� six affiliates qualified for postseason play.
In the majors, winning took a back seat to development. While the loss total soared, so too did the stock of many of the 25 rookies who appeared with the Indians. Outfielder Jody Gerut finished fourth in the American League rookie of the year balloting. Among the others making favorable impressions were pitchers Jason Davis, Cliff Lee and Jason Stanford; catchers Josh Bard and Victor Martinez; first basemen Ben Broussard and Travis Hafner; shortstop John Peralta; and outfielders Coco Crisp, Alex Escobar and Ryan Ludwick.
The Indians also pushed many young players through the system, trying to accelerate the rebuilding process. Pitchers Fernando Cabrera, Fausto Carmona, Francisco Cruceta, Jeremy Guthrie and Kazuhito Tadano; third baseman Corey Smith; and outfielders Luke Scott and Grady Sizemore all reached the upper minors by the end of 2003.
Cleveland also continued to bring in more talent, taking advantage of multiple first-round picks for the fourth straight draft. The Indians made the most of their highest draft slot in 10 years by taking Tulane first baseman Michael Aubrey, who hit .348 at Lake County. They used their other first-rounders on Ball State outfielder Brad Snyder and Texas high school righthander Adam Miller, who also looked good in their pro debuts. The Tribe added another first-round talent in righty Nick Pesco, a 25th-round draft-and-follow from 2002 who signed for $1.1 million.
Many longtime Indians employees say it has been decades since the organization had this much depth in its farm system, and it makes the team�s minor league talent among the best in the game. Cleveland has so much talent, in fact, that several legitimate prospects with eye-catching numbers or good tools couldn�t crack the organization�s top 10.
There were a few negatives on the development side last year, however. The last two No. 1 prospects in the organization, infielder Brandon Phillips and Smith, didn�t progress as hoped. Phillips had a disastrous year, hitting .208 in Cleveland and .175 in Triple-A. Smith still hasn�t had a breakout season after batting a modest .271-9-64 at Akron.
But they were the exception and not the rule. The Indians aren�t ready to contend in the AL Central this year, but they should be able to challenge no later than 2006. Their only division rival whose future looks as bright is the Twins.
Top Prospect: Grady Sizemore, of
Age: 21 Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 200 Bats: L Throws: L
Drafted: HS�Everett, Wash., 2000 (3rd round)
Signed by: Scott Goldby (Expos)
Background: Sizemore was considered the third-best prospect in the trade that brought him from Montreal to Cleveland for Bartolo Colon in mid-2002. Since switching organizations, Sizemore has eclipsed infielder Brandon Phillips and lefty Cliff Lee, who came with him from the Expos, and established that he has a higher ceiling than anyone in the system. A high school quarterback who signed a letter of intent with Washington after being recruited by several other Pacific-10 Conference schools, Sizemore gave up football to sign for $2 million. He�s a high-energy, intense competitor who draws comparisons to other football-to-baseball converts such as Kirk Gibson. Sizemore looks like he made the right decision. In 2003, he led Indians minor leaguers in runs and hits, topped the Double-A Eastern League in triples and was named MVP of the Futures Game. He hit .412 as Akron won the EL playoffs, then batted third for Team USA at the Olympic qualifying tournament in November.
Strengths: It has been a long time since a player with this many tools has emerged from the Indians system. Sizemore has the full package, the potential to be a marquee player, and is as close to being an untouchable as the Indians have in their minor league system. He uses the entire field and controls the strike zone well, projecting as a .300 hitter in the majors. His power is coming quicker than expected, as he stroked 13 homers last year after totaling six in his first three seasons. There�s a lot more to come, as he was an EL all-star at the tender age of 20. Sizemore�s speed and center-field range are well-above-average. He�s quick out of the batter�s box and has tremendous baserunning instincts. He�s still learning the art of basestealing but should become at least a 20-20 player as he matures. Along with all his physical skills, Sizemore also has off-the-charts makeup. He�s an aggressive, blue-collar player with a tremendous desire to succeed.
Weaknesses: There are few flaws in Sizemore�s overall game. His arm grades as a 35 on the 20-80 scouting scale, though it�s playable in center field. He compensates by getting to balls and unloading them quickly. Sizemore�s walk rate declined in 2003, though it was still respectable. That seems to be the tradeoff, at least at first, for the increase in power. After succeeding on just 57 percent of his steal attempts the last two years, he must improve his reads and jumps.
The Future: Sizemore isn�t far from being major league-ready at age 21. With a surplus of young outfielders on the major league roster, the Indians have no need to push him and he�ll start 2004 as the center fielder in Triple-A Buffalo. He should make his big league debut at some point during the season.